Never use the phrase “counting cards” in a casino if you don’t really intend to count cards either. Casinos want you to think that counting cards is illegal, which it is not, and they will call you a cheater. They will also be sure to evict you from the casino if it is found that you are counting cards.
Counting cards is not the easiest way to gain an advantage over the casino, but it is one of the most effective methods of gaining an advantage over the casino. In this article you’ll read more about counting cards in blackjack. You’ll also read the answer to the question of how difficult it really is.
Advantage game in blackjack
Counting cards at blackjack is easy in theory. Putting it into practice and combining it with a specific mindset is more difficult. That mindset is called “advantage play. In gambling, advantage play is when you place bets where you can mathematically get the best result from them. In all casino games, the casino always has a mathematical advantage.
In some games and in some situations you can change the way you play. That way you can reduce the house edge and sometimes even gain a mathematical advantage. That mindset usually involves being willing to make a bet if you have an advantage. By definition, recreational gamblers do not play with a mathematical advantage against the casino.
There are card counters who are still willing to lay down money at the craps or roulette table. These types of card counters do not qualify as advantage players, even though they sometimes use an advantage playing technique during a specific game. The most well-known advantage playing technique in the casino is, of course, card counting.
Counting cards at blackjack can give you an advantage over the casino
The importance of basic strategy
One of the most common misconceptions among gamblers and blackjack players is that you can gain an advantage over the casino by playing every hand correctly. The correct play for every possible situation is called “basic strategy.” You must master basic strategy before you start counting cards. But basic strategy alone does not give you an edge.
It simply brings the house edge down to the lowest possible number. You might play in a blackjack game where the house edge for blackjack is 0.5%. But if you make several fundamental strategy errors, you could raise the house edge to 2% or 3%. So if you do that, you are just basically giving your money away to the casino.
Basic strategy is based on your two cards and the dealer’s open card. You can choose to double, hit, split, pass or surrender. One of those choices is mathematically always better than all the others. Basic strategy has been repeatedly calculated and tested with computer simulations. Game conditions affect a small percentage of situations, but each basic strategy card is usually almost completely accurate.
And how difficult is mastering basic strategy really? It depends on how good you are at remembering things. But even someone who is bad at memorizing can eventually master basic strategy. However, you MUST always master basic strategy before you even consider counting cards.
The history of card counting
Dr. Edward Thorp is considered the father of card counting. He read an article titled “The optimal strategy in blackjack” while he was still a professor at UCLA. This article was written by Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott. They later became known as “The Four Horsemen.” In that article, the authors devised and explained both basic strategy and card counting.
Dr. Thorp took the basic theories in that article and refined them with computer simulations. The idea was simple enough: what effect does removing a specific card from a deck of cards have on your odds? Do you intuitively not understand why removing a card from a deck matters? Then consider what would happen when all the aces in a deck have already been dealt?
When are you likely to get blackjack
If you play in a blackjack game with one deck of cards, your chance of getting a blackjack drops to 0%. It is impossible to get such a hand without an ace. Since a blackjack pays out 3 to 2 instead of even money, the house edge increases in this situation. The next leap in logic is not huge. The fewer tens you have in the deck, the less likely you are to get a blackjack.
You need a 10 and an ace to get a blackjack, there is no other way. Removing those tens also has other effects. It means that doubling and splitting also become less profitable. Thorp used this way of thinking to develop the first formal card counting system, namely “counting the tens”.
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How to use the “counting tens” strategy
Counting tens is not the most optimal card counting system to use. But since it was the first, it may be illustrative to take a look at how it works. The first step to using this card counting system is to memorize the basic strategy of blackjack. After that, you should make every playing decision based on the basic strategy.
You then keep a running count that reflects the ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck. Each card has a value that you add or subtract to the running count. Each time a low card is dealt, your advantage increases. Each time a high card is dealt, your advantage decreases. In the ten counting system, tens, jacks, queens and kings are the high cards.
You count each of them as -9. All other cards in the deck, including the ace, count as +4. You always start with 0 and move the count up or down based on the +4s and -9s. If your count is 0 or lower, you should bet as little as possible. If the count is +1 or higher, you should bet more. The higher the count, the more you should bet.
By the way, the ten count strategy is only useful if you are playing in a game with one deck of cards. It does not work well in games with two or more decks.
In addition to counting tens, you can also use the Hi-Lo card counting system
The Hi-Lo card counting system
A better system for counting cards, in terms of usability, is the hi-lo system. Unlike Thorp’s 10-count system, the only values you need to use when counting are +1 and -1, making the system exponentially easier to use. In the hi-lo system, the low cards are 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 and all count as +1. The 7, 8 and 9 are considered middle cards and count as 0.
The aces and tens (including picture cards) count as -1. As with the 10-count, you start the count at 0 and move up or down 1, depending on which cards are dealt. If you are playing in a single-card game, simply use the running count to determine how much you bet. If you are playing in a game with multiple decks of cards, you must convert the running count to the “real count.”
You do a “real count” by dividing the number of runners by the number of decks you think are still in the shoe. This is a step that many novice card counters hate, but it’s not as hard as they think. A rough estimate is good enough to gain an advantage over the casino house edge.
What is a betting spread and how does it work
Most card counting books offer specific strategies for increasing and decreasing the size of your bets based on the actual number. The problem is that casino personnel are familiar with the same books. If you count cards and increase the size of your bets “by the book,” you will be noticed immediately.
The biggest tip for the casino counting your cards is the size of your spread. This is just a ratio of your lowest bet compared to your highest bet. For example, if you bet between €5 and €25, the spread is 5 to 1. The bigger that difference is, the more likely you are to be noticed by the casino. At the same time, however, the larger your spread is, the more advantage you will have over the house.
There are techniques you can use to camouflage that you are counting. Keeping the spread small is one of them. Another is to increase your bet only after you have won a hand. Many players do this when they are lucky. It is also common for players to lower their bets after losing hands. The problem with these camouflage techniques is that they all minimize your edge over the casino.
Is counting cards at blackjack difficult? It’s not easy, but it’s far from impossible! As such, there is much more to read about counting cards. You can read even more about the intricacies of card counting in other articles on this website.